Mistress America (2015)

The good part about studying abroad in Palma de Mallorca, Spain is the warm weather, the beaches, the paella, and so on. The bad part is that pretty much all of the movies are dubbed in Spanish (tough trade off, huh?); as tempting as it has been to see, say, The Martian or Spectre in dubbed Spanish, I have decided to pass.

However, this past weekend, I had the unique opportunity of actually seeing a movie in English at the ever-prestigious Evolution International Film Festival in Mallorca (slowly becoming the new Cannes). With my busy schedule of doing Spanish things, I only could go to the final movie: Mistress America.

Based on the title, I thought I was going to hate it. Based on the description (“a lonely college freshman’s life is turned upside down by her impetuous, adventurous soon-to-be stepsister”), I was almost certain I was going to hate it. But I didn’t, at all. Maybe because it was the first English movie I had seen in theaters in months. But more likely because it was just a good movie.

For starters, Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig did a great job on the screenplay. In a movie that does border on ridiculous at times, nothing seems too forced. Furthermore, in many instances, the movie was profound and in others too it felt quite realistic. Take for instance the opening sequence of Tracy (Lola Kirke) starting out in college. Though I have never been a shy, freshman girl in college, I can imagine it was a fairly realistic depiction. From the icebreaker orientation games to her roommate telling her no one goes to convocation to the first college party, the viewer could sympathize with Tracy’s situation because it seemed genuine.

And beyond that, every scene in the movie seems to have at least one line that either makes you laugh or makes you want to remember it to quote later, or both. For the most part, the movie is comprised of little laughs. There isn’t one scene or moment in particular that will make you fall out of your seat in hysterics, but all throughout there are moments, often subtle, that will make you chuckle.

This is as much a product of the good writing as it is to the characters themselves. Kareem, for instance, is about as minor a character as there is, but the scene where Brooke (Gerwig) knocks on his door in a panic asking to use his fire escape and he calmly responds with “yep” is one of the funnier scenes in the movie and sums up the type of humor nicely. Then there is Dylan, the ex-boyfriend/potential investor in Brooke’s restaurant, who claims that he is cool because he saw Nirvana before Nevermind and spends most of his screen-time searching for his weed to impress his new, younger friends (Nicolette, Tracy, and Tony who all tag along with Brooke). But his best scene is when he is talking to Brooke about how his couple’s therapist is “totally on his side” and thinks that his wife, Mamie-Claire, is holding him back.

Far and away, though, the most interesting character of all is Brooke, particularly Brooke through the eyes of Tracy. It’s easy to see why Tracy idolizes Brooke. Brooke lives her own life. That is, she plays by no one’s rules but her own. For the initially shy Tracy, this is a breath of fresh air.

However, Tracy is not completely blinded by Brooke’s zest and youthful vigor. In fact, as her short story “Mistress America” evidences, she can see right through Brooke to, what turns out to be, an insulting level. And when Brooke gets her hands on Tracy’s story based on her, their relationship quickly falls apart. Tracy’s observations are not untrue, but they are harsh, particularly for a sensitive person like Brooke.

Everyone knew that Brooke’s restaurant was just a pipe-dream that had no chance of either happening or succeeding because that’s who Brooke is, a dreamer, not a do-er. Throughout the movie, she has so many “ideas” or dreams, all of which are destined to go nowhere.

In a way, Brooke and Tracy’s relationship is a lot like that of Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway. Brooke desperately and fruitlessly chases after her dream of the restaurant while Tracy comes along for the fun ride, all the while writing about everything that happens. Brooke was never supposed to read the story. Tracy wasn’t trying to bring her down; she was just trying to get into the prestigious lit society. It’s like in Rocket Power when Squid makes the video game making fun of all the other characters (for anyone who understood that reference, let’s hang out).

Anyways, I digress; Tracy is Brooke’s biggest supporter all the way through, the story notwithstanding. It is Tracy who waits outside Brooke’s meeting with her investors. It is Tracy who continually reminds Brooke of the restaurant. And it is Tracy who helps Brooke through her sales pitch to Dylan. Maybe Tracy is only doing this to fit in with her “cool” new step-sister. Maybe it is all a ploy to get Brooke to like her. Or maybe it is because somewhere along the line Tracy, like all of us, lost her ability to recklessly dream. To set the kind of goals that “sensible” people will laugh at. Dreams that, granted, may never come true, but may lead to some exciting journeys.

And that is the true essence of Mistress America. It is a movie for dreamers, regardless of how big or small their dreams may be. Because, in the end, we all have a little bit of Brooke in us. We all have that grandiose dream within us somewhere. Some, like Tracy, hide from it because it scares us. Others, like Brooke, embrace it and wear it on their sleeve wherever they go because they are fearless, perhaps a little misguided, and have nothing to lose — like a child.

Children often know more than we do. Or rather, they know what we’ve chosen to forget. In this case, it is the childlike Brooke that reminds us what all kids know: that it is okay to dream, no matter how crazy it may seem. The most poignant line in the whole movie comes in the car ride when Tracy says that her favorite part of any car trip is the moment where you don’t really want to get where you’re going because you’re enjoying the journey so much. Brooke will probably never get where she is “going”, whether it be the restaurant or whatever dream she dreams up next. Which sounds sad.

But perhaps she’s just enjoying her journey too much to stop.

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